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Managing, Strategizing and Navigating Under Pressure

Mental Management is the process of maximizing the probability of having a consistent mental performance, under pressure, on demand.” – Lanny Bassham

On May 24th, 1988, TACA Flight 110 from Belize loses engine power during its approach to New Orleans. Captain Carlos Dardano informs the control tower in New Orleans he’s flying with one engine when the second engine fails. TACA Flight 110 rapidly falls to an altitude of approximately 1,000 feet.

The flight crew is following protocols with some creative thinking while the plane without engine power continues its descent, gliding toward a canal in the eastern section of New Orleans. The first officer notices a small strip of land adjacent to a levee near the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility, in less than 90 seconds flight 110 with 45 people aboard lands safely on that small strip of land, something that has never been done before.

For TACA flight 110, time was of the essence; they lost power to two engines, they’re navigating through uncharted territory. Their commitment to the foundational principles guiding crews through “engine out” procedures enabled them to manage their emotions, develop a strategy, and navigate the more than 70-ton aircraft through the storm safely to the ground.

Effectively leading people, managing resources, developing strategies, navigating through difficult times, opens doors of opportunity. Though most of us will never face a crisis on the level of flight 110, decision making under pressure in the face of uncertainties still forces us to follow our instincts.

Establishing foundational principles to guide your organization through any environment enables you to go beyond the mindset of surviving to the reality of thriving, the flight crew needed both.

The crew of flight 110 followed their instincts while adhering to their standard procedures for the situation at hand, they managed their resources decided on a strategy and navigated the aircraft and their passengers safely through a most turbulent crisis.

Manage Your Resources Lead Your People

Because foundational principles do not change, they should never be bypassed or compromised. Your principles undergird your organization’s vision values and behaviors. Many organizations react to sudden changes, temporarily suspending the very principles that brought them stability and sustainability in the first place. The crew of flight 110 responded to their emergency with creative thinking and basic principles intact.

In speaking with leaders navigating through turbulent times, I’m surprised how often some justify abandoning their principles so they can “react” to sudden changes they’re facing, that’s like a pilot shutting down their instrument panel to navigate a nighttime storm by “eyeballing” it. The crew of flight 110 never abandoned their protocol, its what enabled them to think outside the box finding a solution under immense pressure.

James Russell Lowell says, “Creativity is not finding a thing, but making something out of it after it is found.” Captain Dardano and his crew found a grassy strip of land and, in seconds, made a runway out of it, They managed their resources, developed a strategy within minutes, and led their passengers to safety.

Think Outside the Box

Alison Doyle writes: “Creative thinking means thinking about new things or thinking in new ways. It is “thinking outside the box.” Often, creativity, in this sense, involves what is called lateral thinking, or the ability to perceive patterns that are not obvious.

The fictional detective Sherlock Holmes used lateral thinking in one famous story when he realized that a dog not barking was an important clue in a murder case.”1Focused creative thinking involves an actively creative imagination to produce original ideas. For the crew of flight 110, landing a 737 on a small grassy strip of land qualifies as an original idea and solved their problem.

Act Immediately Although it is your responsibility to deliberate options and make educated decisions, you’ll encounter situations in which you must think on your feet. Great leaders act with limited information. Learn when to take action using the information you have, coupled with your experience and instincts to guide you.

Be Confident Don’t waste time and energy second-guessing yourself; the flight crew didn’t have that luxury. When time is of the essence, second-guessing yourself can waste precious time. Make your best decision and stick with it.

Think Payoff Your motivation to act comes from the benefits you envision. What will your team and your customers/clients gain from your best decision under pressure? After considering and addressing the negatives, focus on the positives. Even after weighing their options, the crew of flight 110 weren’t looking forward to the process of landing on that grassy strip during the storm, but the outcome was highly beneficial.

“You can always tell your true values by looking at your behavior — especially under pressure.” – Brian Tracy

End Notes

1From “Creative Thinking Definition,Skills,and Examples” by Alison Doyle,

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